Indonesian Mob Leaders Get Away with Murder

In what Human Rights Watch called “a sad day for Indonesia,’ a court Thursday gave astonishingly light sentences to religious fanatics who led a frenzied mob on that killed three members of the Ahmadiyah sect on video to between three and six months in jail.

An estimated 1,000 Muslims descended on the Ahmadiyah compound in the western Java town of Cikeusik in Banten province in February. The videotape, shot secretly, went viral across the world, showing the mob running down three men as they fled for their lives and beating them to death with rocks and sticks.

As hundreds of people prayed outside the Serang District Court, the leader, Idris bin Mahdani, was convicted of nothing more than illegal possession of a machete. He was jailed for five months and 15 days. Dani bin Misra, a 17-year-old who was shown in the film smashing a victim’s skull with a stone, received three months for manslaughter. None of the 12 who stood trial faced murder charges.

The light sentences for the 12 drew condemnation from human rights activists as well as the US Embassy in Jakarta, which in a prepared statement said that “We are disappointed by the disproportionately light sentences handed down on [Thursday] in the trials of twelve individuals implicated in the brutal murder of three Indonesian citizens during the February 6 attack on an Ahmadiyah community in Cikeusik, Pandeglang, Banten Province,” The US, the statement said, “encourages Indonesia to defend its tradition of tolerance for all religions, a tradition praised by President Obama in his November 2010 visit to Jakarta.”

Religious intolerance has been reaching deeper and deeper into the Indonesian population, with 30 percent of those polled in a study in 2010 approving of violence against members of the Ahmadiyah sect, a Muslim offshoot that preaches that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last Islamic prophet, succeeding Muhammad.

However, other religions and sects have become increasingly concerned about Islamic fundamentalist intolerance and outright violence as well in what has always been regarded as one of Islam’s most tolerant societies. Just days after the mob killed the Ahmadis, an angry mob destroyed three Christian churches after a local court in Temanggung, central Java, handed down a five-year sentence against a Christian man accused of blasphemy against Islam. The protesters were demanding a stiffer sentence, authorities said.

Even Shiite Muslims have expressed concern. The thugs in the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) have been intimidating non-Muslims, threatening pork sellers and raiding night clubs – most recently in Surabaya in East Java against a giant prostitution complex. Attacks have even taken place against performances of wayang kulit, the famed centuries-old shadow puppet play.

While other religions and segments of society have watched the events with growing unease, however, it is the Ahmadiyah who have taken the brunt of the violence. That stems from a 2005 ruling by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). The fatwah, which called Ahmadiyah’s teachings blasphemous, has been compounded, particularly in the last two to three years, by the seeming indifference of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has displayed relatively little ambition to rein in Islamist extremists and outright thugs acting in the name of religion. The government has done little to discourage violence against the Adhmadiyah and Yudhoyono himself has never called on the police to arrest the hooligans.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson said.that “instead of charging the defendants with murder and other serious crimes, prosecutors came up with an almost laughable list of ‘slap-on-the wrist’ charges. The Cikeusik trial sends the chilling message that attacks on minorities like the Ahmadiyah will be treated lightly by the legal system. This is a sad day for justice in Indonesia.”